Monthly Archives: May 2013

PHIL LEE – The Fall & Further Decline of The Mighty King of Love

January 01, 1970

Phil Lee


When Phil Lee sings the blues, the emphasis is often more on humor than heartbreak. Witness “It Can’t Hurt,” the live bonus track affixed to Lee’s latest, The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love, and its saucy monologue to boot. And while the album boasts a tongue-twister of a title, the music is anything but, mostly down-home homilies sung with a Dylanesque drawl and an authentic aw-shucks demeanor.

Blues and Bluegrass share space with jaunty shuffles, easy saunters, swampy narratives and rough-hewn ballads, an eclectic mix fueled from Lee’s back story as a go-fer for Neil Young, an associate of producer Jack Nitzsche, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and a steady presence in bars and juke joints from here to yonder. Veteran producer Richard Bennett cultivates Lee’s everyman persona without detracting from his no-frills delivery, but while dobros, washboards, fiddles and banjos provide backwoods embellishment, it’s Lee’s raspy vocals, gutbucket guitar and wailing harmonica keep the proceedings grounded. “Cold Ground,” “What Your Baby Wants” and “All You Need” bring humility to the proceedings, but it’s the soulful saunter and stirring gospel-like chorus of “I Hated to See You Go” and the sepia-tinged hue of “The Hobo’s Girl” that allow Lee to revel in his roots.

DOWNLOAD: “Cold Ground,” “What Your Baby Wants,” “The Hobo’s Girl”

THE CRACKLING – Mary Magdalene

January 01, 1970



 The Crackling’s name “…refers to songwriter Kenton Loewen’s favorite sound, the sound of burning. From gentle taps of smoking wood, to violent sparks of exploding pine cones and falling branches…”

 I recently learned that the Crackling’s been opening for File Under: Music label mate Dan Mangan. Mangan performed at a venue I was booking in 2007. His impassioned, intuitively meshed technical expertise and songwriting talent were elevated by that ineffable quality that moves some performances into the indelible memory category.  Based on the talent of the tour mate who shared that ’07 show – Matt Berube – Mangan probably welcomes challenges; competition. Even given the fact that Mangan’s percussionist, Loewen, is  the Crackling’s founder and central idea-maker, I’m not surprised to learn that Mangan’s been touring with the band. Canada’s alt. cabaret/folk/Indie rock subgenre seems to maintain its fertility – as have many healthy grassroots artistic movements – by populating itself with participants who inspire and support each other to fulfill and surpass their respective potentials.

 Spotted by a track or two that helps keep the whole boat afloat, Mary Magdalene is something of a marvel. Loewen injects his emotions into forms that seem familiar while fresh and engaging. His ear for melodically attractive music is matched by an ability to appoint and arrange songs with a sense of just how hypnotic they can get without dipping into sleepy time territory. Arcane elements (clarinet, accordion, viola, piano, French horn, cello, acoustic guitar) are pumped up by more typical rock (electric guitar, bass, drums) instrumentation. Vocals, whether Loewen is solo or joined by Debra Jean Creelman, Dan Mangan, and/or the Vancouver Children’s Choir (“Keep Me Drunk”) are delivered with cabaret-savvy dynamics:  restrained when they just need to tell the story; mounting to a roar when a song’s blood hits the surface. 

 “The Crackling” is a riveting exercise in boot-tapping rock with slightly gothic theatrics. It’s so enlivening that the band’s cover of a song I thought I’d heard enough for several lifetimes is well positioned to creep into my heart, right after it.  Loewen’s quiet, resigned delivery of “Suicide Is Painless” restores the wryly heartbreaking nuances to a song that hit me that way when I first heard it in Mash (the film – as a TV theme song, it’s been castrated by sitcom theme orchestration and repetition). Other high points include the meaty folk rock of “Ashen,” a passionate confessional called “Keep Me Drunk,” and the elegant step back/forward rhythm of “Sold the Children.”

  DOWNLOAD: “The Crackling,” “Suicide Is Painless,” “Sold the Children, “Keep Me Drunk”


January 01, 1970

Jason Marsalis


 The fourth album from the youngest Marsalis brother, In a World of Mallets is also his second in which he wields the vibes, instead sitting behind the drum kit with which he made his name.  Despite his quartet’s name, the group does not consist of nothing but vibists – Austin Johnson, Will Goble and Dave Potter hold down piano, bass and drums, respectively, dissipating the promise of an all-vibraphone quartet. Still, the trio gives Marsalis sensitive accompaniment, almost to the point of deference – the leader’s instrument dominates every track. Nothing wrong with that, given that his name leads, but sometimes it would have been nice to hear more give-and-take with his bandmates – Potter is really the only one pushing Marsalis forward.

 Fortunately, the mallethead is good at his job, as comfortable with the rippling melody of “Blues For the 29%ers” and the swing of “Ill Bill” as with the playfulness of “Ballet Class” and the candlelight glow of “Characters.” The most intriguing tracks, however, are the short cuts by the pseudonymous Discipline Ensemble – Hermeto Pascoal’s “Nenhum Talvez,” vibraphone king Bobby Hutcherson’s “My Joy” and the originals “Discipline Discovers a World of Mallets” and “Discipline Gets Lost in a World of Mallets,” find Marsalis overdubbing himself on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel and tubular bells for a whimsical quartet of tunes that border on avant garde.

 With the exception of Lionel Hampton, jazz vibists tend to be out of the spotlight, well-respected but not in the mainstream of jazz. In a World of Mallets probably won’t push Marsalis into Hampton-levels of popularity, but it does assert the instrument’s place in the music’s wide spectrum.

 DOWNLOAD: “Ballet Class,” “Discipline Discovers a World of Mallets,” “My Joy”

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 5-21-13, New York City

Dates: May 21, 2013

Location: Beacon Theater, New York City


Photos/Text by Greg Kelly

 Note: photos are from 5-21; review is from 5-25. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers played five sold out shows at The Beacon Theater. Saturday night they opened up with The Byrds “So you want to be a rock and roll star” and went through a wide range of hits and covers, toning it down a bit midway. They played songs from an array of work through out the years and some powerful covers, which included “Friend Of The Devil”, “Steppin Stone” and a great version of Conway Twitty’s song “The Image of Me”.

 The band had the crowd in the palm of their hands the whole night! Judging by the band’s interaction , it seemed they had  fun playing to a packed house in this historical venue – they closed the night with “American Girl.” And as I sat and thought about what an important musical icon was playing before me, I felt like I was part of a very special event at The Beacon.





DAFT PUNK – Random Access Memories

Album: Random Access Memories

Artist: Daft Punk

Label: Columbia

Release Date: May 21, 2013

Daft Punk


 This is a dazzling album, steeped in soul and brimming with an uncommon musicality, all rhythmic urgency and compelling melodies and anthemic choruses. Traditional disco tropes abound, from vocoder-drenched vocals to handclaps-as-percussion to sleeky-silky fretboard flourishes (and yes, that is Nile Fucking Rodgers playing guitar throughout the album—speaking of tradition). But there’s no winking irony at play. Listen to, say, the exuberantly funky “Get Lucky,” featuring guest vocalist Pharrell Williams (Neptunes) giving the performance of his life as Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr. weave an insistent bed of riffage beneath him; or the dreamy, atmospheric soul of “The Game of Love” that concludes with a heartbreaking observation from the lonely vocoderist, “You decided to walk away… me, I just wanted you to stay.” It’s emotionally profound, with a subtle elegance, and it’s sonically serendipitous, too, in the way that the songs’ hooks remain with you long after the record has spun.

 You want emotionally profound? In addition to Williams, several other guest singers drop in, among them Julian Casablancas and Panda Bear. It’s a Williams from another era, however, elfin songwriter (and to some, ‘70s cheesemaster) Paul Williams, who submits the record’s lump-in-throat moment by way of “Touch,” an extended ode to the tactile sense and how it help makes us human. His slightly damaged croon, abetted by Daft Punk’s own vocoder vocals and an honest-to-god 14-person choir, provides the sonic and psychic counterpoint to the presumed “soullessness” of the group’s robotic nature—and by extension, totally undercuts all those old anti-disco arguments, that the music was mechanized and lacking in soul.

 And my god, Daft Punk actually corralled disco godfather Giorgio Moroder to contribute to the nine-minute track bearing his name, in which he expounds upon his inspirations both then and now, which can be boiled down to: making and enjoying music is about freeing your mind.

 In the current cultural climate, we need more of this. Album Of The Year, y’all.

 DOWNLOAD: “Get Lucky,” “Give Life Back to Music,” “Touch”

PARTHENON HUXLEY – Thank You Bethesda

Album: Thank You Bethesda

Artist: Parthenon Huxley

Label: Nine 18 Recordings

Release Date: April 02, 2013



Parthenon Huxley has always made music that’s slightly left of center. With rare wit and a knack for crafting flawless hooks, he’s gained a reputation as a reliable power pop pundit, a musician who epitomises everything that’s so appealing about that fundamental style. Over the years he’s operated under various guises – Rick Rock, Rick Miller and P. Hux, and he’s also a participant in the latterday, post-Jeff Lynne reboot of ELO, an ensemble now known simply as “The Orchestra.”

Regardless, as Thank You Bethesda suggests, he’s never better than when he takes the spotlight under his own auspices. The razor sharp riffs that steer the title track, and the snappy ricochet rhythms that drive “Angeleno,” Huxley’s parody of Hollywood’s star-making machine, define his intents, making further embellishment largely unnecessary. Nevertheless, Parthenon is no one riff wonder; the ebullient “Beautiful,” the sprawling “Luckiest Man” and the revisit to a better known cuts from his catalogue, “Buddha, Buddha,” affirm the fact that his upbeat attitude leaves ample room for variation. Effusive to a fault, he croons these tunes with a confidence that gives each a cinematic sweep. Admittedly, Parthenon Huxley isn’t the only one operating in this crowded arena, but given his enthusiasm, other contenders seem largely inconsequential.

DOWNLOAD: “Angelino,” “Thank You Bethesda,” “Beautiful”


Album: All of Them Witches

Artist: Hedvig Mollestad Trio

Label: Rune Grammofon

Release Date: May 21, 2013

Hedvig Mollestad Trio


Quick test: name your favorite recent female guitar hero. Tough one, ain’t it? In the new millennium, it’s still the boys who get all the attention for ax-wielding. If you’re not familar with blues mama Bex Marshall, you should head to to correct that immediately, but you should also pay heed to this Norwegian string-bender too.

For her second album, Mollestad recorded her three-piece band live in a wooden barn though they did make use of high-end audio equipment there (no cows or chickens in the background). The band’s swagger sometimes recalls ye olde daze of Zep and Sabbath- drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad ain’t no Bonham but he keeps things swinging mightly regardless. With no distracting vocals, Mollestad herself shows off some pretty mighty chops too- her fluid, inventive playing proves that she’s really the fan of artier types like Sonny Sharrock and Fred Frith that she claims to be. For proof, check out the first half with her let-loose solo on the opener “Sing, Goddess” or her crunching riffs which turn into screeching banshees and feedback howls on “The Rex” or the fuzztone jazz of “Lake Acid” or the sweet, sad notes she juices on “Achilles” or her high-speed drama on “The New Judas” (she’s definitely into mythology/history).

On the second half, she dives more deeply into early Mahavishnu Orchestra territory, sounding as if John McLaughlin hadn’t given up on great rock-fusion and abondoned the style to the mush it became otherwise (not to mention his own religious fervor). Play the thunderous “Code of Hammurabi” (named for a Babylonian king) or the yearning “Shawshank” or pretty, beautiful “Ghra Runda” for friend who’s a JM fan and you may actually cruelly fool them into thinking that a follow-up to The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire had been unearthed (which would be great in and of itself). Until (or if) such a great archival windfall happens, Mollestad gives us a generous and welcome taste of that classic sound, which her own twist on it that would hopefully make McLaughlin himself proud.

DOWNLOAD: “Sing, Goddess,” “Code of Hammurabi”

Dawes + Sera Cahoone 5-26-13, Denver CO

Dates: May 26, 2013

Location: Gothic Theatre, Denver CO



Strong double bill—and if it wasn’t sold out, it was darn close (Dawes have gotten a lot bigger since their humble beginnings a few years ago).

I had caught opener Sera Cahoone back in early November when she and her band headlined the Hi-Dive. On this night they were openers and she had part of her band which means her guitarist/dobro player Jeff Fiedler was there was pedal steel player Jay Kardong, but no bassist or drummer. Instead, on percussion she had her brother sitting down and smacking the tambourine and doing some harmony vocals. From her latest record, the gorgeous Deer Creek Canyon, we heard opener “Naked” as well as “Worry All the Time,” “Every Little Word,” “Nervous Wreck’ and even some from her 2008 Sub Pop debut (Only As the Day is Long) like “Shitty Hotel.”. Again, on stage Cahoone seems so humble and shy, but her confidence comes out in her songs and she’s a talented player, as are her bandmates who really help the songs come alive (though I’d pay to see Cahoone do a solo acoustic set as well). If you have never seen Cahoone live or heard her records, make it top priority.

After seeing Dawes several times in 2010-2011 it had been a while since I’d caught one of their gigs. In the interim they’ve released their 3rd record and gotten a lot bigger (I joked with my pal at this gig saying that Dawes was attracting soccer moms and soccer grandmoms…  not far from the truth). Their new record, Stories Don’t End, has not resonated with me at all (though I think their 2009 debut, North Hills, is a classic and their sophomore effort, 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong was strong, too). Also, while singer/guitarist/leader Taylor Goldsmith still plays the howling preacher on stage, a lot of his moves these days seem really heavy-handed and trying to play to the crowd rather than it being spontaneous. With that said, the band is terrific: Goldsmith smokes on his instrument, as does his younger brother Griffin on drums, unique bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboardist Tay Strathhairn.

They opened with “Most People” (off said new record) and continue on to play for a little over an hour with most songs being from the new record. I was hoping for some classic off of North Hills but all they played was “When My Time Comes” (a crowd favorite) and “Peace in the Valley.”  Off of Nothing is Wrong they played a few as well: “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” “Fire Away” and the killer “If I Wanted Someone.” Otherwise it was all the new record including “Someone Will,” “Just My Luck” and “From a Window Seat (Rivers and Freeways)” and ended the set with “From the Right Angle.”

When the set ended this crowd was not to be denied and cheered, no demanded, a few encores, and they got them which included “Hey Lover” and one more and they called it a night.

Despite what I said earlier, it was a good set and the songs from the new record that didn’t connect with me sounded a bit livelier and well, better on stage. I’m not ready to give up on Dawes yet; I’m hoping they regain the magic of those first two records on their next record and will always catch them when they come to town (unless the soccer moms crowd me out).


HIGHASAKITE – In and Out of Weeks

Album: In and Out of Weeks

Artist: Highasakite

Label: Propeller

Release Date: May 05, 2013



 An organic, catchy and buoyant release filled with several layers to provide a substantial sound, In and Out of Weeks is a sampling of what this new Norwegian band has to offer. Expanding from a trio to a quartet, Highasakite released their folk-rock full length debut, All That Floats Will Rain, in Norway in 2012; with just five songs to offer we international listeners, Weeks is over far too soon.

 A blend of several genres, Highasakite mixes folk, acoustica, and electronica to create a mellow yet upbeat atmosphere. In addition to the captivating music Weeks is capped by the great melodies of Ingrid Håvik; her effortless, alto vocals adds yet another ethereal note to the album. Opening with the heavy drumming and organs of a song titled “Son of a Bitch,” one does not expect such a cheerful disposition; especially as Håvik croons “hold my hair as I vomit,” somehow she manages to makes it all sound blissful.  “Indian Summer” ends on a high spirited note as the song escalates with Håvik chanting “I’m a wild willow…for a while” on top of rolling acoustic guitar, drums and loopy effects.

 The title track proves the most sublime as strings, a harp and clashing metallic percussion accent the chorus. A preview into the talent this young band possesses, In and Out of Weeks warrants for the quick release of Highasakite’s full length.

 DOWNLOAD: “Indian Summer,” “In and Out of Weeks”



VILLAGERS – {Awayland}

Album: {Awayland}

Artist: Villagers

Label: Domino

Release Date: April 09, 2013



 Operating under the moniker of the Villagers as essentially a one man band, Conor J. O’Brien comes across like a toss-back to that fabled era in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when every album was destined to be an epoch and more than a mere collection of songs. On this, his sophomore set, he follows up his internationally acclaimed debut, Becoming a Jackal, by demonstrating why he could be in contention for the title of Rock’s next wunderkind. A musician capable of creating lush if sometimes unlikely arrangements, he uses his particular prowess as a means of fashioning spectacular soundscapes.

 Songs like “Judgement Call” bring to mind the radio-ready designs of Tears for Fears, but it’s tracks like the insistent “Nothing Arrived” and the hushed, introspective “My Lighthouse” that affirm he’s clearly worthy of his recognition. Accessible yet intelligent, prog without pretension, O’Brien’s work is bound to be talked about, not only as a milestone in his forward trajectory, but also as one of the year’s major success stories as well. Few writers could pen a line as pointed as “Naked on the toilet/With a toothbrush in his hand/He suddenly acquired an overwhelming sense of doubt” (from the song “Earthly Pleasure”) and make it seem so intriguing. That’s but one reason why {Awayland} offers such a fascinating escape.

 DOWNLOAD: “Judgement Call,” “My Lighthouse,” “Nothing Arrived”